Former Heisman winner Mark Ingram has started the third year of his career. And his career continues to sputter.
He gained 11 yards on nine carries for the Saints on Sunday, part of the team’s usual three-headed tailback attack. On Tuesday’s PFT Live, coach Sean Payton addressed the question of whether the numbers are a reflection on Ingram or the rest of the rushing offense.
“I think it’s a fair question,” Payton said. “It’s a good question because we try to look at that and make sure, ‘Hey, is this the right play or player? Did he have a chance?’ [On] one weakside lead play, he slips on the turf and get a minus-two loss where we think it’s well blocked, so you know that’s something I’m sure he frustrated with. Then there is a run or two where it’s tough for any of our backs, but overall you get a feel and I think he had a couple positive runs for us against Atlanta, be it on a draw or an outside zone scheme.
“I think from a consistency standpoint it is probably spread across the board. In other words there were some snaps where you look at Mark and say, ‘Hey, we can do more than this.’ Then there are a few snaps where it probably didn’t matter if Barry Sanders was back there, we are going to be in trouble.”
The Saints largely have avoided trouble from their habit of spreading out the touches among three tailbacks. So how has Payton persuaded guys like Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles to buy in to the approach when players like Reggie Bush have gone elsewhere to become workhorses?
“I think that the players buy in if they feel like it gives their team a chance to win and you’ve been successful,” Payton said. “That challenge for us has come up a lot with the receiver position. Going back to ’09, ’10, and ’11, we have had more than two receivers. Oftentimes there would be combinations between Lance Moore, [Devery] Henderson, [Robert] Meachem, and [Marques] Colston, and maybe its kept the numbers down for one of them for playing or participating in a Pro Bowl. But I think the offense sells itself in that regard.
“From a running back standpoint, we try to establish the roles needed in each game,” Payton added. “Darren, for instance, I kind of treat differently and much like we did with Reggie Bush there is a certain ‘joker’ role for him, be it in our empty [set] or in some of our one-back [formations]. So for him it’s an easy sell. At his age, he knows there is a snap count we want to work on each week and then it’s really splitting the carries with Pierre and Mark Ingram.
“You know, three is manageable. The challenge is when you have that fourth player we had that a year ago with Chris Ivory and then you have Ingram and then you have Pierre and you have Sproles. It becomes more challenging.”
It’s definitely been challenging to justify the decision to give up a first-round pick in 2012 to get the first-round pick in 2011 that was used to acquire Ingram. Regardless of the reasons, his career to date has been a disappointment.